How to Hire on a Trial Basis

How to Hire on a Trial Basis

Employers are more specific than ever about finding the right candidates for open positions, says Susan Fontana, a regional vice president in the Boston office of Manpower, a company that provides contingent and permanent staffing solutions. They are looking for the perfect match in both skills and cultural fit.

Because of that, many are taking the approach of hiring a potential employee on a temp-to-hire or temp-to-permanent basis in order to evaluate the individual on-the-job.

“This period serves as an extended job interview and allows both the employer and the candidate to ensure that the fit is right before committing to a permanent, full-time relationship,” says Fontana.

Fontana points out these advantages of hiring on a trial basis:

  • It allows a business to evaluate candidates in the actual job environment versus the controlled environment of an interview.
  • It reduces the employer’s risk in the event a candidate is not the right fit. Ending a temporary assignment results in no hard costs and can be done quickly.
  • Because there is less risk, employers will usually move more quickly, to bring in strong candidate for temp-to-perm, which means less downtime due to an open role.

Bill Driscoll is the New England District President of Accountemps, a division of Robert Half that specializes in temporary hiring solutions for professionals in accounting, finance and bookkeeping and is based in the company’s Boston office. Driscoll oversees professional staffing services for Robert Half’s 23 offices throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and portions of New York.

Driscoll says today’s employers are taking extra measures to minimize the risk of making bad hiring decisions and temp-to-hire arrangements provide the opportunity for companies to observe firsthand an individual’s skills, performance and fit for the position before extending a full-time offer.

Other advantages of using a staffing firm to hire on a trial basis include:

  • Staffing firms offer benefits to their temporary professionals, so companies don’t incur those costs until they hire on a professional full-time.
  • Employers can hire temporary professionals to keep projects on track, particularly during peak work periods, while they evaluate them for full-time opportunities.
  • Temporary professionals can relieve some of the workload burden on existing staff, which can help boost productivity, morale and retention of full-time employees.
  • Staffing firms conduct interviews, skills testing and reference checks for their temporary professionals, saving you time.

Employers should go into a temp-to-permanent hire basis understanding that the employee is approaching a temp-to-perm scenario with a mindset similar to that of employers – they are assessing the company, just as they are being assessed.

“Individuals are evaluating whether the job itself is a good match, if company culture is a fit, and if they get along with their colleagues,” says Fontana.

The employee is also getting compensated for the extended “job interview.” It’s a lower risk scenario for a candidate, much in the same way it is for an employer. If the job is not working out, an individual can end the assignment quickly and without negative impact to their work history.

A successful temp-to-perm relationship starts the moment your contingent employee shows up, says Fontana. Make sure you’re ready and prepared to help this person make a strong start. This includes assigning a work area with needed supplies, equipment and access, preparing a schedule for onboarding and training and frequent communication in the first few weeks to monitor progress and answer questions.

“You should also provide regular performance feedback about the candidate to your staffing partner,” says Fontana. “Make sure you’re open and honest with positive and constructive feedback so there are no surprises along the way. A candid approach also allows the staffing partner to share feedback regarding the candidate’s experience, so you are able to address any concerns and understand if your prospective employee is continuing to interview during this process. The feedback is critical for a successful hire, as you may be able to accelerate the permanent offer before they receive another offer.”

It’s important for HR, managers and full-time, permanent employees to treat the temporary professional like a full-time employee, says Driscoll. Introduce this person to those he or she will work with, give them a tour of the office, set up their workstation with all necessary equipment and supplies and inform them of the processes and procedures of your company. Invite this employee to meetings, company events and teambuilding activities so they can feel part of the team. This also will help you determine if he or she is the right fit with your corporate culture.

“Be patient,” says Driscoll. “Don’t expect perfection from day one. It will take a little time for the professional to adapt to the company, projects and processes.”

Driscoll offers these tips for employers looking to hire on a trial basis:

  • Put your best foot forward, as you would with a full-time employee, to ensure they feel welcome from the moment they walk in the door. Just as you’re auditioning them, they’re also auditioning you. If they don’t feel welcome or have a bad onboarding experience, they might not want to stay with your company long term.
  • Let the professional know upfront that the temporary assignment has the potential to turn into a full-time position. It’s useful to create a job description outlining the assignment, key responsibilities and deadlines.
  • Allow time to adjust. Even the most experienced professional will need time to become familiar with colleagues, the layout of the office, and the firm’s practices and standards.
  • Provide the professional with challenging tasks so you can determine if she has the requisite skills to be hired full-time.
  • Monitor the success. Evaluate each temporary assignment to make sure you’re satisfied with the arrangement. This assessment will allow you to improve current and future working relationships with your staffing firm and with temporary employees themselves.

In a temp-to-perm scenario, leaders serve as role models. If leaders treat contingent staff with respect, the rest of the team will follow suit. It’s also very helpful if leaders approach with the mindset that this person is their future hire and onboard the candidate with this goal in mind, says Fontana.

As a HR professional, manager in this type of situation be sure to follow these guidelines, says Fontana:

  • From a relationship standpoint, be honest and manage expectations.
  • Be clear about how long you expect the temporary/evaluation period of the job to last. If something happens to extend the temporary role, communicate that information right away.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep in order to impress the candidate. Be upfront about things like responsibilities, salary and career path.

When the time comes to bring a temporary employee on full-time, hiring that temporary employee is a relatively simple process between the employer and the staffing partner.

“The terms of that transition will likely be spelled out in your original agreement,” says Fontana. “Typically there is a conversion fee involved.”

You’ll also need to settle on the full-time salary and other benefits and perks that will round out the offer. The staffing firm will communicate the offer to the individual, says Driscoll. If HR worked directly with the staffing firm, collaborate with them on the full-time employment offer, such as starting salary, benefits and perks. They can pass it along to the staffing firm, who will communicate it to the employee. If the professional isn’t a good fit, let the staffing firm know. They can handle the discussion with the professional.

What if the employee is not the right fit? First, you need to talk to your staffing partner because they are the individual’s employer. Your staffing partner will guide you through the process. Typically your staffing partner will collect feedback from you as to why you want to end the assignment and then the staffing firm will deliver this information and feedback to the individual.

In order to really get the best candidates in the door, you need to have a good relationship with your staffing partner. Here is some advice to make that relationship solid:

  • Prior to contacting a staffing partner, have a clear vision of what you’re looking to achieve by partnering with a firm. Then, be open and honest about your needs and expectations.
  • Give clear feedback about what is working well and what is not.
  • Provide thoughtful feedback about candidates so your staffing partner can continue to hone in on the mix of skills that are needed to be successful in a role at your company.

Be cautious in this type of arrangement though and don’t lead the employee in the right or wrong direction through the comments you make.

“While it’s important to convey that the opportunity is a temp-to-hire arrangement, don’t hint that the employee will receive a full-time offer unless you’re absolutely certain he is a good fit for your organization,” says Driscoll.

Managers also need to consider these additional tips, says Driscoll:

  • Avoid being “out of sight, out of mind” with the temporary. Be responsive and stay in touch. If you won’t directly manage the temporary, be sure whoever does is available to answer his questions.
  • Don’t be shy about offering feedback and performance updates to the staffing firm. If things aren’t working out, they can step in and address them before minor issues escalate.

“Hiring managers are increasingly looking for well-rounded professionals who can go beyond their job descriptions,” says Driscoll. “The best way to gauge a job candidate’s interpersonal abilities is to see them in action during a working interview. A temp-to-hire arrangement is a great way to get visibility into the intangibles that can’t be seen on a resume, such as how the individual conducts himself in a business setting.”

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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